Prime minister stokes tensions in Turkey branding rally 'extremists'
TURKISH prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused protesters of being "extremists", further inflaming tensions after four days of anti-government demonstrations.
Mr Erdogan branded the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets in cities across the country as an "extremist fringe" and "a bunch of looters".
The protests began as a local demonstration against redevelopment on Gezi Park in Istanubul but escalated into an outcry against what is perceived to be Mr Erdogan's authoritarian rule.
"There are those attending these events organised by extremists," the prime minister said. "This is not about Gezi Park any more. These are organised events with affiliations both within Turkey and abroad."
In stark contrast to Mr Erdogan, Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, urged calm and defended protesters' rights to hold peaceful demonstrations.
"If there are different opinions, different situations, different points of view and dissent, there is nothing more natural than being able to voice those differences," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
The two men are expected to compete against each other next year in Turkey's presidential election. Mr Erdogan has been seeking to push through controversial constitutional reforms to increase the power of the presidency, which – after winning three landslide elections – he had seemed well placed to win.
The most intense clashes in Istanbul took place in the early hours of the morning when protesters tried to storm Mr Erdogan's office, only to be repelled by police using tear gas.
A 20-year-old man was killed when a taxi drove into a group of demonstrators on an Istanbul highway, the first known death related to the demonstrations. Four other people were also injured, one of them seriously.
Mr Erdogan's suggestion that the demonstrations might have been arranged by foreign elements is resonant of the accusations made by the ousted Libyan dictator Col Muammer Gaddafi and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who both sought to blame foreign interference.
Mr Erdogan angrily rejected comparisons with the Arab Spring uprisings. "We already have a spring in Turkey," he said, alluding to the nation's free elections. "But there are those who want to turn this spring into winter."
The demonstrations across Turkey mostly represent the secular middle classes rejecting what they see as the imposition of Islamist values.
The ruling AK Party, having delivered a tripling of per capita incomes since it came to power in 2002 and restored Turkey's investment grade rating, still enjoys broad support.
Turkish stock markets reacted to a fourth straight day of the protests by tanking almost 7pc, heading for their biggest one-day fall since October 2008. (© Daily Telegraph, London)